Monday, December 14, 2009


A while back we had a visit from some of Blowfish's NY cousins. Cousin "Elizabeth" is a person prone to busyness with her camera. In fact she went from room to room in the Pond house taking photographs for show and tell once she got home. Cousin Elizabeth swears she never has an original idea when it comes to the look of her home. She wanted to record things in our home in hopes of importing some of them to hers. The Pond house is lovely, but just like the cobbler's children have no shoes.... the designer's house is short on design. The highlighted difference in this visit was Cousin Elizabeth saw all things positive while I saw all the things needing attention. Or money. Or both.

During the course of this visit it somehow came to be that I should create a Christmas wreath for the cousins. I think I did see their house, briefly, about 30 years ago. Frankly I cannot remember a thing that would give me a clue about what sort of colors or themes, etc. Also, if I know I am going to be making one of a kind wreaths, swags, topiaries or trees I go off to the design markets and fetch the components. I was sort of thinking I would have great "leftovers" from the Hospice Tree for use on the wreath but as it turns out, I did not.

So I went forth to the local retail sources to see what I could find to make a beautiful gift for these cousins. Since it is less than 2 weeks til Christmas the pickins were slim. I felt more like I was on a scavenger hunt than a focused mission. I actually started out with an idea about the theme I wanted to portray but the reality was no such components were available. I next had to choose between not making the gift with a promise to make one next year or, to come up with a new idea based on what was available to me in the here and now. Since I knew Blowfish was excited about my creating a one of a kind gift for his cousins, I felt a bit of pressure to deliver.

I swear it is no exaggeration when I say I was in that store for more than 2 hours. Long enough to hear the Christmas music cycle around three times. The store had already started the after holiday store reset with lots of aisles given over to Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and Spring. This meant all the remaining holiday inventory had been smushed into just a few close out aisles. Then too, I foolishly went on a Saturday. The aisles were packed with parents and children trying to find deals on holiday decor or single ornaments for teacher gifts. So not only were quantities and varieties limited but the conditions were reminiscent of the gridiron lineups. Maybe even the gridiron pileups. Not my thing, not my thing at all.

Eventually I ferreted out enough stuff to maybe create something good , not generic. Unfortunately I found it was going to be necessary to stop at yet another retailer before I could go home and get in my studio to produce. I needed to look for one more item in one of those stores which is part fabric store, part crafts store, part mass produced Chinese trash decor store. I bet I don't set foot in this place once every 3 years, which is a bit too often for me.

I was making my way down the main aisle to the section I needed to visit when my peripheral vision picked up on something which made me stop in my tracks. It was nothing major, just a bolt of fabric. But that fabric transported me back a few decades to visions of my Mama sewing amazing creations. Long years before the crippling arthritis robbed her of the pleasure of sewing. Of her pleasure it magically transforming simple components into something wonderous.

Like many of her generation she could sew for her home; curtains, bedskirts, placemats and napkins. She could sew for her girls, for school plays, for Halloween costumes and, she could do all of those while seeing to the needs of a litter of kids , a largish household and with a mostly absent spouse. She was not one of those moms known for her baking skills or her housekeeping.. She was widely admired for her creative thinking and her immense sewing talent.

One summer she was going to accompany our Dad to an annual sales convention where she would need eveningwear for five consecutive nights. Once it was determined they both would go on this trip our Mama started fetching home the latest issues of Vogue, Bazaar, and any other fashion journal of the day. Soon her little sewing corner was cluttered with inspirational reference taped up on the wall. Beautiful photographs from the publications, some of her own sketches and eventually little fabric swatches were added to the collage. Next , I kid you not, she cut open the brown paper bags from the grocers, ironed them smooth so she could begin making her patterns. Amazing.

As a teen, I thought this was interesting. I enjoyed seeing the progress of her thinking up on that wall. I liked seeing her evaluate combinations of face fabrics , linings, trims, beads, bugles, sequins, buttons, zippers, threads. There was quite the play on textures, colors, weight and a great variation between severely tailored and floaty feminine looks. I sometimes would go with her to the stores where she would have tucked into her purse the final sketches and the swatches to reference against shoes, evening bags, gloves and the costume jewelry of the day.

Eventually an entire collection was created. It was awe inspiring. I could not believe my Mama had produced custom clothing that rivaled, or trumped, the designer collections in the Vogues and Bazaars. But she did. I so clearly remember the day she completed her tasks. I came home to discover each dress layed out with shoes, bag, gloves, jewelry. I went from ensemble to ensemble lightly tracing my fingers along the fabrics, picking up items for closer inspection and feeling a bit stunned by what my mother had achieved. I would consider it my prize possession if today I had a scrapbook with those sketches, fabric swatches and paper bag patterns.

So back to the aisle in the store. There was a bolt of fabric which looked an awful lot like my memory of one of the selections from Mama's evening wear collection. It really did stop me in my tracks, to the point others bumped into or navigated around me with that look meaning get out of the way. But I was seeing visions of my Mama, young, eager, busy, enthusiased, chock full of nervous excitement and purpose. Those days are long gone. What is not gone is the lasting influence this episode of my mother's life has had in my life.

For me, that bolt of fabric clearly demonstrated my bad attitude. Where was that can do spirit of my mother? Where was the eagerness to face a creative challenge? Where was my faith in my ability to use the gifts I have for good purpose? I looked down at my straight fingers, my functioning hands and felt true shame. One thing is for certain. Cousin Elizabeth's wreath might evolve from ordinary sources, but the end result will be extraordinary.
I can do no less and keep honor with my mother's teachings.


Aunty Belle said...

oh mah heavens, Fishy. What a memory. Youse a lucky thang to have learnt them creative lessons.

Please post photo of Cuz Eliza's wreath when it is finished--we'uns wanna see what ya produced after this reverie!

fishy said...

Belle, I shipped the wreath this morning. And, I did not take a picture of it before it left the studio.
I told myself a dozen times to get the camera but seems like every time i went to fetch something diverted my attentions and so forth. I'll ask the cousin to send a photo...she always has her camera at the ready.

Buzz Kill said...

I'm always amazed at how a smell, a taste, a sound or a sight can instantly cause a person to time travel. Or get instantly preoccupied that you forget what you're doing and where you are. For me it's more smells that do that than anything else (I guess that's my keenest sense). Great story. I hope you let Blowfish read this so he knows what kind of effort was made for his side of the family.

Kymical Reactions said...

Fishy, you could write a book with your eloquently told stories. I can see it now: "Chicken Soup from Fishy's Soul."

I love the little story treasures I find when I come swimming over here.

fishy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fishy said...

It's a present don't you think? For us to "time travel" from a favorite old song, a scent of perfume a vision from the past. A bit of Dickens in our own lives to play forward the lessons of our past.

"Letting" Blowfish read this post? That is not up to me, it's his choice. On occasion he will make a comment which indicates he has read a posting, but I don't think he reads them regularly. As for his being appreciative of my gift to his cousins?
I surmise he is pleased .

We all have " Chicken Soup" to share don't we? Oddly enough I had a thought recently that if I ever set forth to publish anything I might be better suited to a collection of short stories than a novel. Would that be by the ladlefull and not the potfull?
Delighted you come swimming at the Pond :-)

Unknown said...

I agree with my sweet girl about this post. But I share several of those same memories that my poor girl won't have ... my mom could whip up pretty much anything on the ol' sewing machine, and if she couldn't, then granny did. Or a friend's mom who had the amazing gift that your mom did ... the ability to see something once and go home and create it herself using paper bag hand-made patterns. She made oodles and gobs of pep club uniforms, bridesmaid dresses, prom dresses ... if you needed something special, she was the go-to seamstress. This lady's name was Patsy Ann, a total hoot, and is the one who re-named (for our group anyway) the fabric store called Hancocks. Here it is, 40 years later, and a bunch of us are still calling it just the opposite. Use your imagination and you will get it ... the opposite of Hancocks? Why of course, it is Footp****s. I can't believe I am sharing that here.

fishy said...

No doubt something very valuable has been lost to our culture by sending all the moms out of their homes in exchange for a paycheck. I think if we totaled up all the expenses of sending Mom out the door, the average family loses, rather than gains economically as well as culturally.

I get your point about name changes

How many women, raised with respect, would go about town saying, " Isn't this exciting, I got this at Footpeckers!"

Savannah said...

You are a wonder Fishy and you never fail to scoop me up with your stories and transport me along beside you as your travel the road of reverie.

Thankyou for the escape into the wonderful world of Fishy.

fishy said...

Gypsy Girl,
I like when you come visiting at the Pond ! I am sure we all miss your MM participations and am equally sure we all wish you a healthy Christmas.

Reverie can be so informative can it not?
It has been years since I thought of that summer.
Yet, the lessons looking back from here are maybe better than the lessons learned then.

Sometimes I am startled by the recognition that many of the best teachings from my Mom came not from her trying to pound something into my thick skull but actually come from my observations of her life.

Unknown said...

Fishy, I have been contemplating that very point recently. Having always been a working mom, but having had a stay-at-home mom. Did my girl suffer for it? We were happy with less ...stuff ... as kids, but mom was very busy with events and golf and who knows what else, so have come to the conclusion that it all equalled out. In my life anyway.

Jenny said...

When I took my Nephew to the fabric store to find things to MAKE his Halloween costume, most of what we found were pre-fabricated items and decorations and very little "raw material". It was disheartening. Sewing is becoming a lost art. Having the ability/desire/TIME to create rather than just purchase is also becoming a distant memory. I can buy a beautiful beaded lamp shade from China for far less than the materials would cost to buy. Did this also kill creativity?

Mass production has made the masses lazy.

Kymical Reactions said...

note to me mum: I didn't suffer. I was taught to be strong and independant from a fairly young age. I wouldn't ask for anything to be different. (well, maybe I'd have stuck out that whole college thing the first time round.) :)

fishy said...

Well, looking at the post of your Nephew's costume one would NEVER think there was any hardship involved. You did a great job in conceptualizing, in the materials selection and the execution.

I am sure, in future flashbacks, your Nephew will remember the creative process, the shared purpose, the achieving of a goal with Aunt Boxer more than the actual costume itself. God willing he will share that sense of purpose with his children. nieces, nephews.
As for the cause and effect of limited choices? Yep the homogenization of America is taking it's toll on multi generations. I predict this will ignite a return to artisans! Be it driftwood trees, hobby farming, culinary explorations or blog journalism individuals wish to remain individual.

Sounds to me like you found your way to being united as a family with space for individuality.
Not a bad balance ladies, not bad at all!